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306                                                                                                            B. POLEVOI
Meresyev repeated the order for his own flight. He
looked round: his follower was suspended by his side,
keeping almost parallel with him. Good lad!
"Hold tight, old man!" he shouted to him.
"I am," came the answer amidst the chaotic crackling
and buzzing.
Again he heard the call:
"I am Leopard three, Leopard three!" And then the
order: "Follow me!"
The enemy was near. Just below them, in the tandem
formation that the Germans favoured, was a unit of
"Ju-87's", single-engine dive-bombers. These notorious
dive-bombers, which had won piratical fame in battles
over Poland, France, Holland, Denmark, Belgium and
Yugoslavia, the new German weapon, about which the
press of the whole world related such horrors at the
beginning of the war, soon became a back number in the
expanses of the Soviet Union. In numerous air fights our
Soviet airmen discovered their weak points, and our
Soviet aces began to regard the Junkers as an inferior
sort of game, like wood grouse or hares, that did not
require real hunter's skill.
Captain Cheslov did not lead his squadron straight
against the enemy but made a detour. Meresyev thought
that the cautious captain intended to "put the sun behind
him" and then, masked by its dazzling rays, creep
unseen close up to the enemy and attack him. Alexei
smiled to himself and thought: "He's doing those junkers
too much honour by performing this complicated
manoeuvre. Still, it will do no harm to be careful." He
looked round again. Petrov was behind him. He could
see him distinctly against a white cloud.
The German unit was now on their starboard. They
sailed in beautiful formation, in perfect unison, as if
tied together by invisible threads. Their wings were
dazzling bright from the sunrays that poured down upon
them.
Alexei heard the last snatches of the Commander's
order:
".. .Leopard three. Attack!"
He saw Cheslov and his follower swoop like hawks
upon the enemy's flank. A string of tracer bullets lashed